By Shaun Bennett
Greg Kalikas was born and raised in Canton, Ohio, and now resides in Uniontown. The 1992 Glenoak High graduate studied business and marketing at the University of Akron for two years before finding his true calling as a mixed martial arts promoter. Kalikas has grown his promotion – North American Allied Fight Series – into a regional power, with hopes to conquer the nation.
Q: How did you get started in MMA?
A: I’ve been involved in martial arts my whole life. I started competing at seven, mostly in tae kwon do and karate. I even made the national karate team as an alternate. Like everyone else, I also watched the UFC and became a fan of the sport. So I started doing a local radio show called Pro Karate Weekly – we aired on WKNR even though we broadcast in the studios of SportsTalk Cleveland – and we had (kickboxing and Muay Thai legend) Duke Roufus call in regularly from Milwaukee, Wisc., to recap the bigger events of the week. He talked me into doing an MMA show in Cleveland.
Q: How did the first show go?
A: It worked out pretty well … that was the first Fight Night in the Flats. Duke knew my background in marketing and he knew we already had a built-in fanbase in the Cleveland area. He had the background in the sport and thought it’d be a good idea to combine our talents. The first couple of shows went under Duke’s promotion name – Gladiators Fighting – before I decided to branch out on my own.
Q: What was you plan of attack in building the company?
A: I said from the beginning that if we did what we said we were going to do, it’d eventually be a success. But I never imagined it’d get to where we are today. It really comes down to the talent pool. Once we started doing successful shows, we started getting contacted by successful fighters and camps. We started getting more fighters than we could keep busy.
Q: How did you handle that pleasant problem?
A: We decided to do some smaller, amateur events. We started doing shows in Columbus, Akron, Steubenville … we got it up to 20-30 shows a year in Ohio. It’s to the point now where we could do two shows a weekend and still not keep all our fighters busy.
Q: How did you get your shows on television?
A: Obviously that was a great moment for us and a good opportunity. We’ve very thankful to SportsTime Ohio for giving us that opportunity. They were airing another promotion at the time – I don’t want to give the name of that promotion – and many people thought that was the only MMA promotion in the state. But we thought we put on a better show. So STO began airing both shows and I assume they were just going to let the best promotion win. We have just signed a national television deal, so NAAFS will be on national TV this year, but I just can’t say which network right now.
Q: What has been the secret to NAAFS’s success?
A: First and foremost is the talent, and it’s improved drastically over the years and continues to do so. Also helping was the people we have on the NAAFS crew. You’re only as good as your staff and we’ve been lucky enough to have a great group of people. It’s almost like we have a tight-knit family, and it shows in what we do. The shows have gotten bigger and better throughout the year.
Q: What improvements have you made to the shows?
A: We’ve added lights, sounds, video packages … it’s not just about the fights any more. We want people to feel the whole experience when they come to one of our shows.
Q: Has having several NAAFS fighters, like Chris Lozano and Jessica Eye, move on to bigger promotions been a source of accomplishment?
A: Our motto from Day 1 has been, ‘The MMA stars of tomorrow fight here today.’ We know we’re never going to compete with the UFC, we really don’t want to. We want to be partners with the UFC. We want to get talented fighters ready to fight for promotions like the UFC. We want them to be able to do interviews, get used to the entrance lights and music, be able to talk in front of the camera. We want the UFC, Bellator, StrikeForce to look to us first when they need a fighter for their promotion.
Q: What does the future hold for the NAAFS?
A: Our long-term goal is to truly become a global promotion. We’d like to do shows around the country – Colorado, Florida, Texas – and our national television deal could be a big part of that. We’ve been one of the top regional promotions for awhile, so we feel it’s time to branch out. But just like we’ve gained success locally, we know the way to do it is slow and steady. By doing things the right way.
— Shaun Bennett